Leaders That Create Churches Others Are Thankful For

1 Thessalonians

This is week 2 of the study on 1 Thessalonians; how leaders and mature believers should and should not act.

Todd WagnerMar 1, 20201 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:1, 5, 9, 10, 11; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 2 Corinthians 5:20

Discussing and Applying the Sermon

  • Do you only share your faith with nameless non-believers, or do you have people in your life that don’t know Jesus that you love deeply? People you spend time with, pursue, and share your life with?
  • For the purpose of sharing the gospel and being part of someone’s growth in Christ—their sanctification—who can you share your life with this week?


Has anyone ever shared their life with you? Made your life better by the way they opened theirs up? As we continue studying the book of 1 Thessalonians, Todd Wagner teaches through 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12, showing us how Paul encourages us to share not only the gospel, but our very lives.

Key Takeaways

  • Christians don’t just flee immorality. We pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord with a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22).
  • God is kinder than you can imagine and better than you can hope.
  • There is only one primary sin that we are responsible for dealing with and forsaking: we don’t love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
  • People say what they think but do what they believe. You want your life to change? Walk with Jesus! Turn from idols and turn to God.
  • The reason some people don’t follow God is because they have never met a true Christian.
  • What kind of leader produces the church you read about in 1 Thessalonians 1? One that isn’t a hypocrite.
  • A lot of pastors have security detail to act like a big deal so that they feel like they are a big deal. Pastors should be accessible and available.
  • One of the marks of a healthy church is that there are immature people there. One of the marks of maturity is the ability to reproduce, at which point you see immaturity all over the place.

Memorable Quotes

"I like my way of doing things better than your way of not doing them.” -D.L. Moody

Suggested Scripture study: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 1 Corinthians 2:1–5
* Blog: Should I Worry About the Coronavirus?
* Podcast: Church Leaders Podcast: Responding to Criticism
* Sermon: An Ounce of Mother is Worth a Ton of Priest

Hello, friends. It is great to be with you today. We are diving back into 1 Thessalonians. It's a book in the Bible we are studying together. We're in the second week. We're going to take our time going through this letter that God preserved for us so we could be reminded both what kind of community he is pleased with and what kinds of leaders create those communities and what communities need to remember and understand so we can be what God intends us to be. So let me pray for us, and then we are going to dive in together. We're glad you're with us.

Father, thank you for the grace of being together wherever we come from, whatever has been going on. Today you want us to interact with you, and you have told us that your Word has power to save those who are lost and to comfort those who are in the midst of trouble and to afflict those who are way too comfortable. So would you do your work today? Would you comfort friends? Would you remind them of things that are true and show them the goodness of who you are?

Would you spur us on and conform us into the image you intend for us to be, that our lives might be filled with meaning and purpose and peace and joy and strength, that we might be a source of blessing and strength to others in your name? We can do nothing apart from you, but we thank you that with you it doesn't matter where we've been or who we've been; what we can be is forgiven and a glory to you and a source of good to others. So go to work this day. In Jesus' name, amen.

Let me remind you a little bit about what we talked about last week. This is a community that Paul is writing to. Paul, as you know, was a servant of Christ and was an apostle, one sent forth from God. You might not want to use the term apostle for yourself, but you, too, if you know God, have been sent forth, or a better way to say it: you've been left here for a reason. You have been blessed to be a blessing. There are folks who are here today who you will bump into throughout the rest of the day who God wants you to be a source of grace and blessing to.

For that to happen, we're going to remind ourselves about what kind of leadership is a blessing to people they bump into. Let me remind you about what this little community of people in this town called Thessalonica were like. I'll do that by redirecting you back to chapter 1. There were people who were genuinely converted. They were at peace with God, not because of anything they had done. I just want to say to those of you who are guests or friends who are listening: there is nothing you can ever do that would make you pleasing to God.

The people in Thessalonica were living in a world a lot like the world we're living in. There was an infatuation with the flesh, an infatuation with business and comfort, and the gospel, the good news of what God had been up to and what God was doing, was something they had no concept of and no concern with. God brought to them somebody who understood the love and kindness of God, who didn't want to tell people, "Straighten up and get your life together, because one day you're going to get inspected."

No, that God had come to you, understanding the brokenness of the world you're living in, to remind you of who he was: a God who was so holy you could never be close to him or friends with him but who was so good he would deal with that separation and bring you back into the grace, the peace, and the goodness of living with and knowing him. So this was a church that, we find out, was in God and in Christ and, therefore, had received grace and peace.

The Scripture says, "Therefore, having been justified…" That means declared once and for all, finally, by a sovereign Judge, as innocent and not guilty. "…having been justified by faith…" God does something amazing when you believe that he is good enough to deliver you from the judgment that your sin and mine produces in our lives. It says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus…"

This was a group of people that heard that news, and as a result of that, they went to work. They went, "If it is true that Christ is God, and if it is true that he died for me, then no sacrifice is too great." Paul wrote this later to the church in Rome: "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" In other words, don't you want to know more of this God?

So, this was a group that had been given grace and peace, and they had a work of faith. They didn't just take the idea from God that they were forgiven no matter what they did and then just keep doing what they wanted to do. No. That kindness of God produced in them a transformed life. So, a work of faith, a labor of love. They went to work. They exerted great effort to love others in Jesus' name, and they had a steadfast hope. It wasn't easy.

I want you to think about this. A church that had received grace, had received peace, and they went to work, not to earn their salvation but because they were saved. They no longer tried to come up with truth and no longer tried to find life on their own, but they went, "God, you who have given me grace and forgiveness, give me more. Show me how to live." They were busy, and they were about it. So this is what they were doing.

Now watch this. They had that work of faith, labor of love, that steadfastness of hope, and there was more. We see that this is a group of people that had a receptivity to the good news of who God was and what he was doing and what he was about. They changed their minds that God wasn't good. They changed their minds that his Word wasn't something they needed to listen to.

They changed their minds that disobeying him wasn't that big of a deal, and they became humble disciples. They became imitators of those who knew this information before them, and they had enduring joy in the midst of a world that wasn't perfect. So if your world is not perfect, look at these people, because you can be like them. They had exemplary behavior. Everybody throughout all the region had heard about how they had radically changed.

They were then a strong witness, a city on a hill, which is exactly what God wants to do in you. People ought to begin to look at your life, look at our community, and go, "There's something different about those people, these humble Christ followers who have enduring joy, who have amazing, exemplary lives that, therefore, are to be followed and noticed, that are hospitable and receptive to spiritual leadership."

This is what was true about them, we see in chapter 1, verse 9: their lives turned from idols and to a living God. So many times, people think the church is, all of a sudden, a group of people who don't do certain things, and that's the lousiest way in the world to describe Christians. We don't just flee immorality; we pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with others who have called on God from a pure heart. We know who he is.

The last thing is you'll find that these were people who fixed their hearts (chapter 1, verse 10) on eternity and were ready for the return of Christ. So, why do I review all that? Because that's a pretty spectacular description of humans: people who had been forgiven and had peace, who were ready for a holy God to return, who had been examples to the world, who were humble, faithful, hardworking, and enduring in hope.

Now here's what I want to do today. We're going to take a look at the next 12 verses in this book, and I'm going to tell you what kind of leader produces that kind of people. The reason we're going to look at that is because you should vet your leaders to ask yourself, "Are these folks who I am receptive to like this?" and then to ultimately ask yourself, "How am I doing in aspiring to be these things, and what do I need to do to sharpen myself that I might be, myself, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work?"

We don't want you to come to Watermark. I don't want you to go to my church, which isn't mine. I am a servant of Christ and a steward of the mystery of God. I'm not giving you Todd's gospel and Todd's ideas. When I wrote that blog post about how to respond to the coronavirus, I didn't tell you what I thought; I looked at what God's Word said and said, "This is how." There is direction for us how to respond to the chaos that's increasing in the world. And this is nothing compared to past incidences where there has been chaos.

Now who knows where it will go, but we already have the playbook on how to respond. God wants you to not just sit and take notes and attend some service; he wants you to tend to God's business. We're a kingdom of priests. I say it all the time. This is a pastors' conference that we do here. We have a lot of guests who are here who don't yet know this God, so we're trying to say, "Hey, we're serious about being the kinds of people who we see God using so that God can be made known to you."

We want to be useful to our Master, prepared for every good work. It's why we study the Bible. It's why I'm about to read now 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 and then study it with you: because this book is God-breathed. It has power, and God has intended for you to know these things so you can be taught, reproved, corrected, and trained so that you would be adequate and, I'll say it again, equipped for every good work.

So let's take a look at 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12. Are you ready? I'm going to read it to you. You're going to see a theme through these 12 verses. It shows up six times just in this little section. It's a key to understanding what kind of leader you want to be.

"For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts.

For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.

For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory."

There are a couple of things I want to share with you. Let me remind you who the church is supposed to be. I kind of did that in setting this whole thing up. I want to let you know that the church, the people of God… God wants to see more people experience the grace and the peace he created for us through the gospel, through the good news of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done. He wants nothing from us except just to come to our senses and to be aware of his nature and his character.

I've said it before. I want to say it again. God is absolutely obsessed with his glory. You're like, "Gosh, Todd. That doesn't sound very attractive. Why is God obsessed with his glory?" God is obsessed with his glory because he knows that when it is manifest, when it's made known, it will be so attractive people will be drawn to it, and when people are drawn to it, they will receive the thing they're looking for.

God is not obsessed with establishing his glory. He's not running for president. He's not trying to get elected king. He's not hoping you'll think well of him. He is good! God is better than you can imagine, kinder than you could hope, and every good thing dwells in him. No good thing does he withhold from those who love him. There is a Liar out there, and all he does is attack God and try to make you think less of God than is true of God so he can then seduce you to go another way.

Every time I sin, every time I go my own way, it's because I'm buying that lie. I believe God is not enough and that the way he calls me to is not where life ultimately is. I'll say this to you again. I'm going to keep repeating it. There's only one sin that offends God. Pornography, adultery, lust, materialism, and self-infatuation are not sins that primarily will keep us from God. They are the symptoms of one sin.

There's only one primary sin we are all responsible for dealing with and forsaking. Now, all of those other little sins flow out of that primary one. The primary sin is we don't love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, because we think he's not who he is. We buy a lie, and it's the truth that will set us free. The truth is in his presence is fullness of joy and in his right hand are pleasures forever.

On this earth, that doesn't mean there's going to be nothing but ease and pleasure, because this earth is not what God intended earth to be. This is not Eden. This is the creation we wrought when we said to God, "We don't want your will. We don't want your way. We're not going to follow what you say is good. We'll decide what is good, and we'll decide what is evil." That's how you get earth.

The Scripture says all of creation is longing for redemption, and what God has done is he has plucked some of us out of this fundamental sin that Adam and Eve made and all of their descendants make until they come to their senses, which is, "I want to kind of manage my relationship with God. I don't really want to call him… Well, I'll call him whatever he wants, but I'm not going to act like he's really Lord and Savior."

By the way, this is why there are so many people who will say, "Man, Todd, I just want to know where the abundant life is. I believe Jesus is my Lord and Savior." And I go, "Well, listen. Believing something intellectually isn't going to change your life." People say what they think, but they do what they believe. Do you want to see your life change? Start to walk with Jesus, worthy of the calling of Jesus, and you will see transformation.

Don't just say there is a God who exists in the Scriptures and in history who is better than the idols you've been worshiping. You have to turn from idols and turn to God. So many folks are not experiencing the life God wants for them because they have this intellectual idea about God, but they never walk worthy of the God they call God. Can I say that to you again? It's not just "Come up front while we sing another verse of a hymn." It's not "Get baptized." It's not "Take Communion." It's not "Go to church." It's "Follow me."

Now why would you follow him if you didn't believe he was good? I want to let you know the reason so many people don't follow God is because they've never met a true Christian. I don't know if you've watched recently Justin Bieber, who has sat down with a gentleman on an Apple podcast. If you go to iTunes, I think it's still kind of plastered there first. Justin Bieber is sitting there and talking to a guy about his desire to really walk with Jesus.

I pray for Justin. I pray it's true. Word is Kanye has kind of drifted in the same direction. Go for it, Kanye. Praise God. What Justin is saying is, "Hey, man, I never really knew… I was around…" He grew up in a Christian home that was a product of a failed marriage where two people got married, probably in a church, and said they would love each other as Christ loved the church and then didn't and left Justin alone with a mom.

He was still probably around churchy stuff, but he wasn't around Christ followers, and it cost him. He's just sharing a little bit of the story. He goes, "I'm finally around some different people who are showing me what this Jesus is really about." I want to share with you, that's why chapter 2, verses 1-12, are so important. There are Justin Biebers all over this world, and they want to run into Paul. They want to run into Silvanus. They want to run into a Timothy who's learning to imitate Paul and Silvanus. They want to run into you, Christian. I mean, a real you.

Watch this. This is so important. Look at what Paul says. He goes, "Look, man. I'm not hiding. I am who I am, and I'm not afraid to show you who I am." He's just going to lay it out right here. He says in verse 1 of chapter 2, "For you yourselves know…" Look down at verse 5. "…as you know…" Look at verse 9. "For you recall…" Look at verse 10. "You are witnesses…" Look at verse 11. "…as you know…"

What's going on here? Do you want to know what kind of leader produces the kind of church I talked about in chapter 1? It's the kind of leader who isn't a hypocrite, isn't somebody who has a veil of appearance of godliness, but if you really get to know them, it's just not what it looks like. So much of what is wrong with ministry today is, especially in larger churches like this, the guys who lead them have no relationship with the people they're leading.

They have security details. They make a big deal about themselves. They're not really available to people, and too many times, when people get close to them, if they even can, they find out, "Man, this guy is not who he's telling us we should be." Paul is saying, "That's just not my story. That's just not my way." It's why I… I mean, who really cares? I'm going to talk about this in a little bit.

I stand here on weekends when I'm done teaching until no one wants to talk to me. Sometimes for two and a half to three hours after I'm done, I'll just stand here if anyone wants to hang out with me. Now, I don't fill up my week with folks who say, "Hey, I'd love to grab a cup of coffee," because that's all I'll do and I'll be useless for everything else, but I'm like, "I'll hang with you any way I want."

I love it when I'm out and people go, "Hey, Todd, we hang out at the same place. We're part of the same community, the same city on a hill that wants to have exemplary behavior in the work of faith and labor of love." I love that. I love to sit and visit and talk. I'm amazed how when I meet people here… And I always want to meet them downstairs in the coffee shop, especially guys who come in from out of town because they've heard about you and us and what we're about.

They go, "Bro, what are you doing? You just walk down here and sit down here?" I go, "What are you even talking about?" They go, "Do you have security?" I go, "What is wrong with you?" Can I tell you why a lot of pastors have security? It's the same reason I used to do this with my friends when I was in high school. Maybe you guys have done this. We would just be bored, so we were trying to have some good clean fun, so we would go to a mall or a very public place.

We would have one of our friends dress up in a way that kind of reflected the best it could, like somebody who was a big deal, and then we would start to go, "Oh my gosh!" loudly, like in a food court or something. "Oh my gosh! Is that…?" And the next thing you know, a bunch of us would move around him and take pictures and make a big deal, and they would just go, "Hey, hey, hey!" We'd try to create a ruckus, like there was some celebrity who was right there.

The next thing you know, there were a bunch of folks who were like, "Oh my gosh!" A person would come around and take a few pictures. Other people would walk around to try to see who was there, and the next thing you know, we'd have a couple of guys who were bigger who would come in and be dressed up, and they'd go, "He's got to go! He's got to go!" and just kind of rush him out, and we'd just move.

Our goal was always to get mall security to see something was going on and kind of protect the guy as well as he made his way out. That was our goal. That's how we knew we won. It's not hard. Honestly, if you just stand up… Like, right now, I'll tell you what. If everybody here stood up and started looking over there, what would the rest of you guys do? You'd go, "What's over there? What's over there?" It could be just them jacking with you.

I have to tell you, I think a lot of guys are just jacking with you. They're acting like they're a big deal so they can feel like they're a big deal. You're going to find out Paul was nothing like that. He was accessible and available. He didn't think meeting with him was that big of a deal. In fact, sometimes people go, "Todd, would you baptize me?" and I'm like, "Nah." They go, "Oh, are you too big of a deal for that?" I go, "No. You just don't need me to baptize you."

Paul said exactly that when the Corinthians were making a big deal about being of Paul and being of Apollos. Paul goes, "I'm not a big deal. This is God's gospel, not mine. I don't think I've baptized any of you. Oh yeah. I baptized him and him, but I think that's all I've baptized. I'm glad I didn't baptize more of you," which also tells you something about this perverse theological idea which is called baptismal regeneration, which means you're not saved until you're baptized.

Why would Paul, who's concerned about the gospel, say he's glad he didn't baptize a bunch of people if baptism was the way you could be saved? Paul was not into it being about him; he was into it being about Jesus. By the way, if you believe in Jesus, you ought to be baptized, but I'm not going to make a big deal about me. In return, guess what: you shouldn't make a big deal about me.

It's why when people ask, "Well, are you going to meet with me? Are you going to hang out with us?" I'm like, "Well, if I get to, if I have the privilege, if I'm the right expression of God's grace to you I will, but guess what. We're a body. We're a kingdom of priests. There are gifted folks all throughout this body, and you probably don't need me." That's why I'm out there stirring up my own work and meeting with people who don't even know I'm a pastor at Watermark, but I just become the source of God's grace to them.

Do you know who doesn't get well? It's the people who think they need to meet with me because I'm the pastor of Watermark, like I'm going to do something special for them. I'm not going to do anything special for you that any devoted, faithful, humble, Spirit-filled, Bible-infused, devoted follower of Christ can't do for you. It's the effective prayers of a righteous man that avails much. I'm so glad you think there's a righteousness in me, but righteousness, biblically, is not mine; it's his righteousness. There is a body and an army of faithful people here.

I understand I have a relationship with you because of the role I play, and that's why I want to talk to some of you. I'm so grateful for the connection you have with me because of the role you give me the privilege to play, but this is Christ's church and Christ's work. I'm just a member of the body. I'm so grateful for the role I play in it, but don't make me a bigger deal. By the way, if I make myself a bigger deal, then this isn't Jesus' church. Or it might be his church; I just shouldn't be its leader.

Let me say one more thing about this Justin Bieber idea, because some of you guys go, "Well, gosh, Todd. I don't really think that right now I'm the kind of person you described in 1 Thessalonians, chapter 1, where I'm an exemplary individual with a strong witness. I'm not a city on a hill. I'm not completely receptive to leadership yet. My life isn't transformed in all of the ways I want it to be."

In fact, there are some people who are here who are critical of Watermark because they go, "Oh, Todd, you say it's a pastors' conference every week. I want you to know I see people here sometimes, and that doesn't look very mature." Can I just say this to you? I want to read you an email I pulled from way back when. We get emails like this a lot, because there are new converts all around Watermark, and there are people who are taking the name of Jesus and aren't very transformed yet.

I'm saying this to those of you who are here who have taken the name of Jesus and are not ready to be a leader like I'm teaching you today you need to be. Don't be discouraged. Just continue on. Stick with us. Have a hospitality that is receptive to leaders that we believe are above approach and that want Christ for you.

So, here's an email I got from somebody. It said, "Why don't you address the severe punctuality crisis on your hands? I notice that about 20 to 30 percent of your congregation arrives about an hour into the worship service. That is outrageous! When and if you choose to fix this, please let me know, and I might consider giving Watermark another try."

All right. Let me tell you how I responded. I've also heard that even in the warmer summer months sometimes. Like, "Man, tell your people to dress differently." You know what? We do what we can when somebody needs some help with their attire. We have ways to help them in little specific moments, but everybody who walks in here and parks in that parking lot and is awkward with you during the meet and greet is not an elder and a leader in this church.

There are a lot of reasons people aren't here on time. Some of them are just flat wrong, but we don't assume that right away. There's a lot of immaturity at Watermark. Do you know that? There are a lot of unchurched people who are just showing up. There are a lot of people who were in church a long time ago, like Justin Bieber, and are making their way back, and they're kind of de-churched.

There are a lot of dead-churched people here. Folks who are just showing up who have been in other churches and thought they were Christian are going to find out they're not, and there are a lot of people who are here who are just unmoved, who are trying to figure out if this message, this gospel of God that Paul brought to Thessalonica and we're bringing here to all of our campuses, is true.

One of the marks of a healthy church is there is immature people there. This is how I responded with a little bit of preface. I said, "The mature church is the church that has immature people around it. Anywhere in the world, whether plant or animal, the clear delineation of maturity is the ability to reproduce. Immature animals can't reproduce. Immature plants can't replicate themselves. The definition of maturity is being fully ripe, fully aged.

So the condition of maturity is obvious. Where you see maturity, you'll observe new life, babies, and immaturity all over the place. We're meeting people who (like in Thessalonica) were committed to dead legalism, and we're inviting them to the gospel. We're meeting people in Dallas (just like in Thessalonica) who were given to paganism and sexual immorality, and we're inviting them to consider the gospel.

We're meeting people who are atheists and inviting them to consider the gospel. We're meeting people who have been abused and tortured and oppressed and are hurt and inviting them to the gospel. Maturity desires reproduction. Maturity tolerates juvenile behavior from juveniles while training its progeny for success in life. Maturity means there are little babies, new life, running all over the place. If you attend a mature church, a godly church, be prepared for immaturity.

Where you find mature Christians you'll find little babes in Christ running all over the place. You'll find people who are not even conceived in faith yet. In fact, if you've been looking for a church where everyone tithes and everyone serves, you're not looking for a mature church; you're looking for a dying church…aged, impotent, bereft of spiritual newborns, because everybody is mature, and there's something wrong with them that they're not reproducing."

If you're here and you take the name of Christ and you're indifferent to the things of Christ and you're rude and you're not growing and are always late everywhere because it's about you, then that's a problem, but if you run into people at Watermark who seem immature, love them as a mother tenderly cares for her babe. Admonish them in grace the way a father, the Scripture says, exhorts his children. Go to work, church.

Now watch this. You're going to see a little thing Paul does. If you want to really understand a simple way to outline chapter 2, verses 1-12… Verses 1-7 are kind of like, "This is how a leader doesn't act," and verses 7-12 are, "This is how a godly leader does act." So let's take a look at it. Are you ready? Watch this. Paul is saying, "You know. You know me." It's almost like there's a little bit of… Some people might call it a polemic, which is just a defense.

He's basically saying, "I want you to hear me defend a little bit of myself," because there were some people, apparently, who came back around and said, "You shouldn't listen to Paul. That's crazy. Paul is not who he said he was. You believed in something that was crazy." That's why he says in verse 1, "Our coming to you was not in vain." That word vain means it's not without effect. "You guys know that Jesus changed you. You know I'm not some charlatan."

One guy who studied what's called the ancient Near East, which is just a time that Christ was alive and the New Testament was written… This is the way he described what was going on. He says, "There has probably never been such a variety of religious cults and philosophic systems as in Paul's day." Now listen to me, because I think today we're giving them a run for our money. Remember, Thessalonica is at this important crossroads from Rome all the way over to the Far East and the Silk Road.

"East and West had united and intermingled to produce an amalgam of real piety, high moral principles, crude superstition, and gross license. Oriental mysteries, Greek philosophy, and local godlings competed for favour under the tolerant aegis of Roman indifference. 'Holy Men' of all creeds and countries, popular philosophers, magicians, astrologers, crack-pots, and cranks; the sincere and the spurious, the righteous and the rogue, swindlers and saints, jostled and clamored for the attention of the credulous and the sceptical."

In other words, Paul showing up in Thessalonica with a story was not unique. Do you all get that? There's always somebody telling people, "Hey, this is it." Kabbalah. Madonna. She's showing up and telling you, "This is it, man." There are imams. There are swamis. There are false teachers. There are New Age experts. There are skeptics. There is Richard Dawkins. There's just this gross tournament of narratives that is out there.

Paul is saying, "First of all, you know I'm not a swindler." This is why you hear me… You know I am not very patient with, specifically, individuals who represent Jesus in this position and are exploiting the flock and doing the things leaders shouldn't do according to 1 Thessalonians 2:1-7 and not doing the things leaders should do according to verses 8-12.

Let me just show you. This is a fresh one. This could have happened in California, but it happened to happen in Tennessee and Georgia. This guy right here is slapping a Bible up on someone's head. This is a guy named Jerry Pearce of a Georgia-based ministry called His Name Is Flowing Oil. Jerry, lo and behold, God bless him, has a ministry centered around a Bible that miraculously has produced oil. It has produced a ton of it. What he does is he goes around with this Bible that produces oil, and he prays for people.

He has been in North Carolina, Maryland, California, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. He has events scheduled all over the United States, but all of a sudden, they were just canceled. Jerry and his buddy Johnny Taylor just said, "We don't know how or why, but all of a sudden, this miracle Bible started flowing with oil." He said, "It started in Psalm 39, and then it flowed to the back of the Bible where it formed a stain over the Middle East in the map section of your Bible in the shape of a heart."

Jerry said, "Man, I don't know, but the Lord told me to place the Bible on them and anoint them with it." He said, "It's amazing. When I hold that Bible up on people, it drips with oil." Now, Jerry stored his Bible in a vat of oil. The Bible leaked. It was drenched with oil. If you pull a Bible out of the oil, as Jerry did, and you put it on people and hold it up, don't you think oil is going to drip out on people? Well, it did.

Folks were swooning around him, but they ran into a problem, because when the news started to report this burgeoning, growing ministry, His Name Is Flowing Oil, a couple of managers at the Tractor Supply there in town noticed that Jerry was the same guy who had been buying an inordinate amount of their oil. So they went and called the news and said, "This guy you've got all over TV who's doing all of these healing miracles…" There were a lot of people who claimed they were healed by this Bible and by Jerry.

He said, "I've never been to Tractor Supply; those guys are lying," were his exact words. So they went back and looked at different footage, and they went back to him again. He goes, "Okay. Well, I did. I bought it." They went and tested it. They sent the oil to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and they did a test, and lo and behold, scientists found that it was identical to the mineral oil sold at Tractor Supply, a petroleum-based oil.

Then all of a sudden, he said, "Well, my Bible quit producing oil," and also the 87 pieces of silver they said also came from it. Meanwhile, apparently a guy hadn't heard about that. Jerry had visited a church in Cleveland, Tennessee, which is not far from Chattanooga where he was. So right after that… By the way, this started with oil appearing on the walls. Have you heard any other churches claiming that? Glory clouds. Gold dust. Oil was on the wall first, and then it came to the Bible.

Well, just about that time, there was a church up in Cleveland that found a guitar that all of a sudden had oil on it, and it was producing little chunks of gold. Gang, it's everywhere, and it's deceitful. What's so interesting and so tragic about Jerry is that he and his buddy… One of the things they say in the interview is "Listen, man. We don't have anything to prove to God. We're just stewards of what God is doing. We'll leave the consequences and the rewards to him." Yes, you will. And so will you.

You may not be claiming that God has your Bible producing oil, and let's all agree that if God wants a Bible to produce oil or glory clouds to come or gold flakes to fall, he could easily do it. But what God says he wants to produce is fruit in you. What God says he wants to do is not have you be immature for years and decades after you've taken the name of Christ. As Jerry has said, you're a steward, and you're going to leave the consequences of your life to stand before him when he gives reward. This is nothing to trifle with.

Look at 2:1. He says, "You know we came and it was not in vain." What Paul is going to do is you're going to see four times in this first little section this idea where he says, "It was not in vain, but…" He comes right after that. Watch this. "…after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know…" We didn't care that we were beaten and bruised and striped and hated and lost popularity. "…we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition."

In other words, Paul said, "A little resistance doesn't deter me." You shouldn't be surprised by it either. You shouldn't go, "Man, this is kind of hurting my relationships." You should just go, "Well, if there was a way I did it that I shouldn't have done it, I want to get better at doing it. I want my speech to be seasoned with salt, as it were. If I was offensive just because I was offensive, I want to repent of that." The words of the wise make knowledge acceptable.

But if your words were as wise as they could be and as gentle as they could be, don't be backing down with critics. If you don't know about our Church Leadership Podcast that we produce for leaders in the church around the world (and you are leaders in the church around the world), I beg you, download our Church Leadership Podcast and listen to the one about how to handle critics. If you don't have time to do that, read verses 1-2 of 1 Thessalonians 2.

When you're criticized, if you see that the reason you're being criticized is true, change, but if it's not true, then don't even stoop to consider it. Can I just tell you something? I'll say this in the podcast. I know I'm not Jesus. That means sometimes the way I did it is suspect. Sometimes the way I do it isn't exactly what Jesus would have done, so I stay humble, but I also know that when Jesus did it he was still criticized, so I stay steadfast and bold.

If someone criticizes me, if there's something true, I change, I seek forgiveness, I make amends, but if someone criticizes me and the problem they have is with the truth and not with me, then I just keep preaching the gospel. That looks like what Paul did. Look at verse 3. "I did not…" Here's the thing. Leaders don't just have empty ministries that don't produce something. Anybody with the gospel is going to produce something.

They don't exhort with error or impurity or by deceit (verse 3). They don't dip their Bible in oil they bought at Tractor Supply and say they have the power of God. "…but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel…" Wouldn't you love that? "Gosh, Todd. I wish God would entrust me with the gospel." Gosh, guys. I think he has. When Paul wrote 2 Corinthians 5:20, he said, "For we…" Like, all believers. "We are ambassadors for Christ. It's as though God himself were pleading through us and begging through us on behalf of Christ that they would be reconciled to God."

I don't know what's worse: what Jerry and Johnny were doing in Tennessee that was deceitful or a church that knows what they said they knew and doesn't do anything. God will use the truth that those guys in their swindling, philandering, false, selfishly motivated, "fleecing the flock" ministry… If you drop a little Bible and gospel in there, God is going to use it. He won't use your indifference and neglect.

I love what D.L. Moody said one time. Somebody walked up to him and said, "Mr. Moody, I don't much like the way you share your faith and the way you do evangelism." He turned and said, "Hey, I don't much like the way I do it either. Tell me how you do it." They go, "Well, I don't do it." He goes, "Well, then I like my way of doing it more than your way of not doing it." I just want to tell you that it is error and impurity and deceitful to say you love God and never exhort people with the gospel.

Paul says God examines hearts. We don't do this to please men. I'm not looking for you to affirm me. Right there. Do you see it? It comes again. Here's another one where he says, "We don't speak to please men, but we know God examines hearts." God knows what my motive is. This is the thing with young pastors.

I just tell them, "I don't know why you're promoting yourself that way. I don't know why you want everybody to notice you that way, because men might notice you, but God knows if you're just using the gospel and your gifts to get noticed. Why don't you just do what he asked you to do, and if he wants the world to notice it, he'll put you on a hill. Just live for God, not for men to tell you you're a great pastor. Just be a great pastor. Stop it."

God examines hearts, and Paul says, "That's what I want. I just want to be found faithful." Look at verse 5. Here it comes again. "We never came with flattering speech. I'm not trying to butter you up. As you know, I'm not here because of greed. This isn't my moneymaking schtick. God is witness. I didn't seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though we could have asserted our authority because of who we uniquely were, having seen the risen Lord, but I didn't make that the thing. I just know the Lord is risen."

When I go talk somewhere, I don't lead… When I was down in El Salvador, when I'm in Africa, when I come as this American megachurch pastor, I don't go down there and tell them, "My authority is about 25,000 people a week come to Watermark. My authority is [blah, blah, blah, blah]." I start every time the way Paul did in 1 Corinthians 2:1.

I just say, "Hey, listen, guys. I'm not here with superiority of speech or of wisdom. I'm here just to proclaim to you the testimony of God. This is my authority. It's not that I am impressive. I want to determine to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. In a sense, I want to be with you in weakness and fear and much trembling. My message and preaching are not going to be in persuasive words of wisdom but in demonstration, I am praying, of the Spirit and of power so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of an American megachurch pastor but on God.

So don't listen to me because I have a large church; listen to me because I have a true gospel, and you test it to see if it's true. I'm going to open the Word, and this is my authority, not my TV show." I don't have a TV show, but the guy who was there just before me does, and they're all impressed because he does. I'm saying, that's not why you should be impressed.

In verse 7, he says, "No, we didn't seek glory from men, but we proved to be gentle." One of the things we get when we send you out other places… Folks say all the time, "You were so humble. You were here with us. You laughed. You dined with us. You ate with us. You didn't just show up and then do your big thing and take an offering and go back to your hotel rooms." It sounds like Paul. That's what you shouldn't do. You shouldn't be those things. I could have put them in a pithy way for you. I'm just walking you through it.

Look at verse 8. This is how a leader does act. He said, "We had a fond affection for you. We longed to see you. We weren't just doing our gig and getting out of there." Do you love people? Remember that labor of love? Do you love people? Are you longing to be with those who you're longing to bring the gospel to? "Like a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we longed to be with you," is the idea.

"We were pleased not just to give you the gospel but our lives." Can I just say this to you? Are you always sharing your faith with nameless, faceless people or are there nonbelievers you care about, who you love, who are on your speed dial, who have your cell number, who want to be with you because you love them and you tell them you love them? That's what changed my life. What changed my life is there were some Christians who I thought were punking me.

I go, "What do you guys want?" They go, "Todd, nothing. We see in you…" There was a lot of hurt that was in me, and they just loved me. I was sure they were setting me up to hurt me and exploit me like the last group did, and they just loved me. I finally said, "Man, what are you all doing?" and they basically said, "Come and see." It was some guys around Young Life. They just said, "Come and see."

"Come and see what?"

"Come to this thing called Club."

"What do you mean? You guys are seniors. You're the starting quarterback on the football team. I'm just a skinny ol' freshman. I'm a skinny sophomore. What do you want to do with me?"

"Come and see, Todd. We want you to know what we know. Hey, are you curious? You asked us why we love you. Here's why: we've been challenged by a guy who has made a big difference in our lives just to love people the way God has loved us."

I go, "What?" They go, "I know that sounds crazy, but we're learning that God pursues us, and we're also learning that God wants us to pursue others in his name. That's why, man. That's what we're after. So if you see something in us that's attractive, that's Jesus." I was like, "You've got to be kidding me." It changed my life, because I saw a true love and a steadfastness.

"For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship…" That word labor is the same word as in labor of love. It's focused, diligent effort. "…how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.""We labored to give you birth," Paul said, "and we're laboring to raise you up." Moms know what I'm talking about here.

Delivering a child through the gospel and evangelism isn't easy, and guess what: it's not easy sanctifying people in your Community Group, bathing them, birthing them into adulthood. That's work. They're saying, "We're like a mom. We're not a grandparent." Everybody says to me, "Oh, isn't it great being a grandparent?" and they tell me all of these jokes. "Hey, grandparenting is the reward you get for not strangling your teenager." Everybody has all of these different jokes.

Grandparents: "Oh, I love my grandkids. The best thing about them is they leave with their parents." Paul is saying, "No!" I'm not kidding you. I'm young enough still, I resent my kids when they take my grandkids. I'm like, "Put them up for adoption. I'll take them. I want to start over. Let's go. Can they be mine? I'll raise them." And my wife looks at me and goes, "No."

She reminds me she did that six times. She goes, "Remember those days when I would be gone just for three days and you were all alone? I did that 362 days, so, we're grandparents." My wife is constantly with the grandkids, but I just want to say this to you. Paul is like, "Hey, we're not grandparents. I'm like a mom. I hear you crying when you're not crying. I love you."

Then he also says, "You are witnesses, and so is God, how we gave you a model to follow. We exhorted and encouraged and implored you as a father his own children." Paul is saying, "This is how you do it. You love people. You long for them. You're not just trying to do it when it's easy. You're committed. You labor diligently in hardship, working night and day, tenderly like a mom, exhorting like a dad."

I could have taught an entire message just on the need for biological male and female relationships. Dads need to be tender, moms need to be strong, but there's something about a mama and there's something about a dad. Quit acting like it's not there, and quit acting like because you're one you don't have to be the other.

Why? "…so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you…" That's what we want for you. That's what I want for you. That's the only thing I want for you. I want you to walk worthy of the calling. Why? Because when Jesus comes, you're going to stand before him and give an account. Not just Johnny and Jerry; you are going to give an account.

These are Jesus' last words in the Bible: "Behold!" It's not like I'm walking out with a good meal and going, "Behold." It's an indicative. It's like, "Listen to me!" This is Jesus talking. "Behold! I am coming quickly, and my reward is with me, and I will recompense everyone according to their deeds." Deceitful? Recompense. Deadbeat? Recompense. Went to church? Recompense. Was the church? Was a godly leader to produce the church? Recompense.

I pray for you that when you stand before Jesus because you're a part of this body that you're going to, in that moment of judgment… I think this'll happen, that you'll just kind of catch my eye, if I'm around, and you'll just go, "Todd, thank you. Thank you." You'll catch the eyes of your Community Group and others in this body and just go, "Yes."

I'm going to tell you thank you. I'm going to hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant" because of you, because of your work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope, which spurs me on and makes me want to be more faithful. Thank you. I don't want you to come here; I want you to be his.

Father, help us to not want praise of men. Help us to not speak with flattery, a pretext for greed. Help us not be individuals who in error and impurity or by way of deceit corrupt the mission, but no, Lord, make us people of affection for those you died for and shed your blood for.

Make us labor with hardship day and night to not be a burden to people because we're in the way of them seeing you, but let us, Lord, be witnesses to them, devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly behaving by our abiding with you, exhorting, encouraging, and imploring others so they can know you and so they can walk worthy of a manner that when they stand before you you'll say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Thank you, Father, that we're saved by grace through faith, but thank you, Father, that having been saved, you've left us here in this dark, perverted, broken, chaotic world for a reason, and that is to be your hands and feet to others. So let us be that. Make us your church. Make us your leaders. Let's go, Jesus. We love you. We're yours. Let us learn your ways. Let us imitate Paul as he imitates you. For your glory and others' good we pray, amen.